China warned that the deepening defense cooperation between the Philippines and the United States should not interfere with its “interest” in the South China Sea, particularly in its claims over the disputed islands.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin issued this statement in a press briefing in Beijing on Wednesday, April 12, amidst the kick-off of the 38th Balikatan Exercises between Philippine and US Forces

“Exchange and cooperation between relevant countries should not target any third party and should be conducive to regional peace and stability,” he said.

“The US-Philippines military cooperation must not interfere in South China Sea disputes, still less harm China’s territorial sovereignty, maritime rights and interests and security interests,” he underscored.

Former Palawan Governor and incumbent 2nd District Rep. Jose Chaves Alvarez revealed in an interview that the Chinese Embassy in Manila has expressed concerns over the staging of military drills near the disputed islands as the US may take advantage of storing military equipment in the island province.

Under the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), American forces are allowed to stay indefinitely at nine Philippine military bases, including two in Palawan.

The US has allocated over $100 million for infrastructure development at the existing five EDCA sites and to support the swift operationalization of the four new sites.

This was highlighted in the US-Philippines 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue, also held Wednesday in Washington.

“These sites will support combined training exercises and interoperability between our forces to ensure that we’re even better prepared for future crises,” said US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.

Based on the joint statement released after the meeting, another $100 million will also be accorded to the Philippines through foreign military financing for the acquisition of a fleet of multi-role fighter aircraft and medium-lift helicopters.

The US and the Philippines are also finalizing plans for the resumption of combined maritime activities, including the conduct of joint sails by the US and Philippine Navy in the South China Sea.

They have also agreed to conduct multilateral maritime activities with other “like-minded partners” later this year.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken reiterated that the US “affirms its unwavering commitment to stand with the Philippines in the face of any threats or coercion, including in the South China Sea.”